TWO years ago this month, Welsh consumers were asked to pay 5p every time they were given a new single-use bag.
There was annoyance and grudging payment as we gradually got used to the idea.
But now, for many of us, it seems foreign to receive a free bag when we cross the Cheshire border.
This week, the Welsh Government said it would look into extending the levy to bags-for-life sold in stores – even though customers pay extra for them.
Meanwhile, the UK government is debating whether to make England follow suit over the 5p a bag levy. We thought it would be interesting to find out what impact the levy has had on small traders and customers over the last two years.
Alison Hughes, of Alison’s Pot Pourri in Mold, said people had adapted.
“It definitely works,” she said. “People do bring them back and re-use them. We’ve even had some people with extra used bags bringing them in for us to re-use. And you also don’t see many bags floating past the window on a strong breeze now.
“Personally I don't think 5p is enough. For the bags-for-life, I don't think even 10p is enough.”
Alison, who watches wildlife documentaries, thought the few remaining grumblers would be more sympathetic to the legislation if they saw what happened to waste plastic.
She said: “You see scenes of sea creatures dead because of bags – whales and turtles that have been strangled to death from the inside. It would make you think twice about chucking a plastic bag.”
John Coulthard of Sugarfayre, Mold, said the policy had an unexpected, if minor, bonus for small traders, even though at least 4p from every bag goes to charity and the remainder, about 0.83 pence is taken by the government as VAT.
He said: “You still get people coming in and having a bit of a moan. But I’d say 95 per cent of people have accepted it.
“I’ve actually saved a bit. I bought two boxes of bags before the levy came in – 4,000 bags – and I’m still using them. I’ll probably be dead before I get rid of them!
“Buying in the bags costs money so it has made a bit of a difference to me.”
Rhiannon Spaven, of Spavens sweetshop in Mold, said while the environmental benefits were obvious, she felt it was odd that retailers were forced to charge customers for paper bags.
She said: “In general I think it’s a good idea. I think even people who come from the England border are getting used to it.
“But I think charging people for paper bags is a bit harsh. If we put loose sweets in a paper bag, that’s exempt however.
“But if a customer buys separate packets, we have to charge them for a brown bag, even though they aren’t as environmentally damaging as plastic.”
Sue Black, owner of Aphrodite in Mold, does not agree with the bag charge applying to paper bags and has found an ingenious way around the levy.
She said: “I don’t give bags out in my shop at all now. I’m not comfortable sending people out with an item of clothing draped over their arm and I’m also not comfortable charging them 5p if they have spent money on a dress.
“What I do is wrap the clothes in a nice little parcel and tie it up with string. That wouldn’t be practical for supermarkets, but in a boutique shop, it adds a personal touch and it allows you to have a conversation when you're wrapping it.
“People like it. It goes back to before plastic bags were readily available.”
Caroline Johnson of Mold Book Shop believes the levy should only have been applied to larger businesses.
She said: “It’s a good idea in theory and in practice with supermarkets but not so much when it comes to small businesses.
“Ours are not the bags you tend to see snagged in a tree.
“Unlike a supermarket, we rely on impulse buying and think the levy hits us in that respect by putting customers off.”
The Welsh Government-supported initiative has allowed book-lovers to get a cloth bag at no extra cost.
Caroline said: “We’ve had the re-usable ‘books are my bag’ bags in for a few months and they are free. They support independent booksellers.”
A spokesman for The Co-operative, said: “Since the bag charge came in, we’ve seen an 86 per cent reduction in the use of single-use carrier bags in our stores.
“We undertook to donate proceeds from the levy to environmental causes across Wales, and we’ve already supported a wide range of native flora and fauna species through the Welsh Wildlife Heroes project. In the next three years, we expect to donate over £750,000 in this way.
“We are aware of the Welsh Government’s White Paper outlining the possibility of introducing a minimum charge for bags-for-life, and await further updates on this issue, in particular the actual figure they intend to use.”
John Munro, director of the Welsh Retail Consortium, which is representing supermarkets across Wales, said: “Penalising customers with an extra charge on reusable bags would send out the wrong message.
“Customers who are doing the right thing already by reusing bags should be encouraged to keep doing so, and not have to suffer an additional penalty for making a responsible choice.”
A spokesman for Sainsbury’s, said single use carrier bags were no longer provided in store.
She said: “Instead, we offer 5p reusable bags-for-life which are made from 100 per cent recycled content and are 100 per cent recyclable
“In Wales, we donate 1p from the sale of every 5p reusable bag for life to our local charity partners. Last year we raised over £50,000 for Welsh charities.”